Rewind TV: Doctor Who; Citizen Khan; Murder: Joint Enterprise; Bad Sugar – review

There was more wit in five minutes of Doctor Who than the whole of Citizen Khan, and the sci-fi serial pulled off another extraordinary trick – making the Daleks scary again

Dr Who (BBC1) | iPlayer
Citizen Khan (BBC1) | iPlayer
Murder: Joint Enterprise (BBC2) | iPlayer
Bad Sugar (C4) | 4OD

It's remarkably seldom that a pocket cartoon can change any aspect of your life. But many years ago a man called Peter Birkett drew, for Punch, a simple cartoon featuring two Daleks confronted with a staircase. The caption was simple. "Well, this certainly buggers our plan to conquer the universe."

From that moment I was not only unafraid of Daleks but found them actively absurd. As all good gags do, this one took a while to filter into the wider world, but within a couple of years it was the wisecrack of choice in those sophisticated circles wherein Daleks were deemed worthy of mention; and even after the chaps behind Doctor Who grew chary of the giggles and gifted Daleks with the ability to levitate, they remained, to my now adult eyes, resolutely silly. So it was something of a coup for the team behind the present Doctor, mainly writer Steven Moffat, to have recaptured for me, through simple dramatic flair, a frisson of remembered fear: hairs on the back of the neck reacting to the sight of anodised parking cones in a way they hadn't for a good 30 years.

It's the hive mind that terrifies, of course, the same premise used to equally daunting effect with the Borg of Star Trek; that and the urgent rising electronic anger of the voices. As the Doctor, with his whizzily floppy hair and stoic mania, stood before the Dalek parliament – summoned there to help save his first-sworn enemies from, essentially, another planet they'd built and filled with other Daleks deemed even by Daleks to be far too mad, angry, hate-filled and unnecessarily violent for, y'know, normal Dalek life (come on, keep up, Stephen Hawking's already on the last paragraph) – the rasps and parps and whirrs rose and growled and coalesced in their evil thousands, flashing layers and tiers in the vast stadium around his bemused blinks, like an Olympics opening ceremony gone spectacularly wrong. Not only did I forget to look at Amy Pond's miniskirt, I forgot to look for the stairs. It was that exciting, that … frissoning.

Yet more well-deserved chops to Moffat and co, and to stars Matt Smith and Karen Gillan for helping suspend our disbelief through another hour of wonderfully silly, gripping and, on occasion, genuinely tremulous family entertainment, those last two words meant well rather than cynically. And there was much sly wit, not least from newcomer Clara Oswin, a terrific Jenna-Louise Coleman, who – oh it's all too complicatedly cosmic, man, but basically she's a pretty young girl who doesn't know she's a Dalek. And she worries, once, that Gillan's Amy may have been sundered by the Dalek hive and in the process of metamorphosing, because she sounds "always so … angry". Amy hears, and snaps caustically out of her stupor. "Well. Somebody's never been to Scotland."

There were more laughs, more wit, more nuanced and believable human humour in any three minutes of this everyday tale of time-travellers besting rusting aliens with a sonic screwdriver and a miniskirt than in the full half-hour of Citizen Khan. Sadly. The BBC's first Pakistani-Muslim comedy came much hyped, and with many hopes, and was insultingly bad. Insulting to some who make a fine amateur hobby out of being insulted and who have complained about stereotyping, but that's what bad comedy does, good people. But more insulting to those, including the above, who believed its billing under the slot "comedy".

It was comedy from the early 70s, taking the rip out of Birmingham Pakistanis – Dad's self-aggrandisement, meanness and dodgy taste in brown ties, Mum's houseproud status-paranoia, the overarching family hypocrisies – but written and performed by Muslims of Pakistani origin, chiefly the otherwise talented Adil Ray (Why? Why, Adil?) and thus OK. Except it wasn't, because it a) did rather fall back on stereotypes, in roughly the way anything scraped from the nether regions of a barrel, held aloft and then dropped, falls back into the bottom of the barrel, and b) was stone-faced unfunny. By the time of the gear stick "joke" my features had assumed those of a gargoyle. All around the country, and particularly around Birmingham's Sparkhill, you could hear people waiting to laugh, with the frustration of a sneeze which won't come.

If they made a similar programme today about, say, Bermondsey whities, utterly ignoring all the suss, wit, learned subtleties, cross-pollination, angst and kindness in favour of non-jokes about tripe, Mother Brown's skirts and the robbing of prize marrows from dodgy allotments there would be, frankly, bemusement. Unless it was actually funny, which redeems much. Which this wasn't.

How can the same corporation produce both above programmes? One can only imagine the execs raising glasses of fino in a tapas bar after a lengthy week at White City. "Dr Who? Yeah, again, it's great, lovely stuff, onward and upward. You?" "Citizen Khan. It's great, it's the first-ever … actually, it's a crock. But it ticks the boxes." Cheers, BBC.

As far from box-ticking country as you could get was the finest thriller of the week, Murder: Joint Enterprise, the first venture into this country from The Killing's director Birger Larsen. He and writer Robert Jones didn't give us a cohesive time line or narrative, or a flawed alcoholic antihero, or bells or churches or stilettos. Instead they gave us, through a series of retrospective monologues from the protagonists – the lairy ex-squaddie, the confused asthmatic detective, the dodgy tramp of a sister – a mesmerising hour which still lingers. It will also have averted as many eyes from Nottingham – goodness, how the local council must have hated this programme, but then it shouldn't have ruined its own city by building that unnavigably foetid mess of a car park/shopping mall smack in the middle of its history and thus making its inhabitants want to kill each other all the time – as it diverted other, nastier, eyes towards the hitherto unregarded yet undeniably rugged contours of an Amaretto bottle. Filthy, harsh, beautifully unpredictable, scarily well acted by Karla Crome and Joe Dempsie, it left a bad taste about humanity and justice, and a sweet raving taste for more of this stuff from Mr Larsen or anyone else who wants to twist, bash and pleat the dough of crime staples into darker and more dangerously cinnamoned delights.

It was absurdly hard not to love any minute of Bad Sugar. As hard as it would surely be not to love Olivia Colman, Julia Davis or Sharon Horgan if you met them in real life, and as hard as it would surely be not to rabbit-punch the next man who ever says that women can't "do" comedy. Spritzy, bitchy, gloriously knowing, this Downton/Dynasty/Brideshead/Triangle spoof would, in an ideal world, warm the cockles all the coming autumn. Every minute, all performances, encapsulated not just the dirtier sensibilities of our times but the pitch-perfect timings and pouts and moues of the very very best of, say, Not the Nine O'Clock News. It's such a shame that, in comparison, Citizen Khan has chosen to echo the very very worst of On the Buses.


Euan Ferguson

The GuardianTramp

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